YORK -- Historic downtown York will once again host area bikers Friday as it kick starts the Rock Hill Bicycle Club's annual Omnium.
Throughout the evening, cyclists will race down South Congress Street reaching speeds up to 40 miles an hour.
"It's just about 45 seconds of gut-wrenching effort," said Steve Shepard, this year's race coordinator. "It's a speed most people will never attain on a bike."
The sprint races in York will be the first of three days of racing in York, Rock Hill and Brattonsville. Organizers are expecting around 500 people from across the country and Canada.
The contestant pool will include a mix of bikers ranging from professional racers to women and men who have just started racing bikes, he said.
"It's a pretty big event and it's a long-standing event," said Bennish Brown, York County/Rock Hill Convention and Visitor's Bureau director.
The Omnium is the longest continuously held bicycle race in South Carolina, although there is some debate about whether it's been for 27 or 28 years.
The sprints in York are always a fun event to attend, said Tamara LaValla, who helped prepare for the event.
"The racers like them because there are not many sprint-type races around," she said.
Sprints is bicycle racing's equivalent to drag racing, LaValla said.
"They have a great kind of drag strip downtown," she said.
The 500-meter sprints are limited to the first 200 pre-registered riders.
York's downtown location was chosen for the sprints about four years ago, because it's spectator-friendly with restaurants and stores.
"There's going to be an announcer, lots of music and lots of excitement," Shepard said.
They've also included a petting zoo this year to attract more children.
Omnium organizers are trying to generate more awareness about this activity as a spectator sport.
"We're trying to build it to the place where it's just 10s of thousands of people lining the streets and food and activities and everything is centered around the races," LaValla said. "We've got a little ways to go, but it's definitely worth it."
They're also trying to get more local contestants.
There are events for non-professionals to participate in, starting with the 10- to 12-year-old competition and going up to a 55 and older category. Participants should be fairly physically-fit, organizers said.
"It's not the kind of thing where you can jump on a bike and a couple weeks later jump in a race," LaValla said. "You're probably going to get dropped pretty fast and it's going to be a long day out there by yourself."
For more information on the tournament, visit the Rock Hill Bicycle Club Web site at rockhillbicycleclub.com or call Steve Shepard at (803) 322-0161.